Before we can fight sexual abuse within the learning space, we need to understand not only the physical, but also the psychological implications it can have on victims. The root of the problem stems from the power imbalance between the teacher and the student, which has existed for hundreds of years now. When we speak specifically of the Indian Classical Arts, we are taught to "surrender" to our Guru from the very beginning of our training. It is imperative that we understand the fine line between respecting our Gurus and holding them on a pedestal of God-like stature.
The Guru - Shishya Parallel
First, let's get into the definition of a Guru :
"In pan-Indian traditions a Guru is more than a teacher. In Sanskrit Guru means the one who dispels the darkness and takes the student towards the light, traditionally a reverential figure to the student with the Guru serving as a "counsellor who helps mould values, shares experiential knowledge as much as literal knowledge, an exemplar in life, an inspirational source and who helps in the spiritual evolution of a student..."
It is very evident from the definition above that the guru is not just someone who teaches a subject, but one who teaches the student a way of living, which not only conveys literal knowledge but also ethics, morals and principles. It should be understood that the title of a Guru comes with immense responsibility, not only towards the art they are teaching but also the humanisation and the respect of the student.
Let's talk a little about the Shishya now,
In the Indian tradition the role of the Shishya is as follows (Click here for a more detailed description)
Purana and Itihasa (Epic History)
Shishya refers to a "disciple" as mentioned in the Shiva Purana "A disciple with a pure soul shall out of necessity carry out the order of the preceptor (guru) risking his life an d staking his positions even if the task isn't within his power. The word shishya means a person worthy of being ordered about. Dedicating all he has even his body to the preceptor, the disciple shall offer his food first to the preceptor and take his food with his permission. Verily a disciple in virtue of his being subjected to discipline is the son unto the preceptor."
Shishya refers to disciple. It is derived from the verbal root "śās" (to command) indicating that a disciple must accept Guru's order as his very life.
Shihsya refers to pupil (one who has to be taught) according to the manusmriti chapter "He shall not, when angry raise the rod against another person , nor shall he let it fall except in the case of the son or the pupil ; these two he may beat with a view to correction."
These ancient teachings have made it clear that the identity of the disciple is completely dependent on his/her actions towards the Guru , and therefore is seemingly at the mercy of the Guru. Today's Indian Classical Arts community seems to be caught in this time warp, that has resulted in the structural and systematic power imbalance, which makes it an unchallenging hub of sexual abuse and exploitation. The modern day Shishya may not adhere to the above definitions, but they have been conditioned to believe that they should behave so. Questioning the Guru has always been frowned upon, refusal of actions not in accordance with ones moral codes are labelled as disrespectful. Therefore, the power imbalance is inevitable with the disciple worshipping the Guru even after knowing the misdeeds of the Guru, which may or may not be directly connected to the disciple. It also makes it difficult for the disciple to stand against the Guru as they have been made to feel inferior all throughout their taalim.
To be continued...
Written and Edited by
Saberi Misra and Abhishek Borkar